Vancouver’s Cafe Scientifique features a talk on beetles, biomimcry, and nanocrystalline cellulose

Vancouver’s Railway Club is a well-known local bar and live music venue that offers unexpected possibilities. From the History page,

It’s a venerable place: it was one of the oldest licences granted in the province after the repeal of prohibition. And while most of the others are now gone, the best still remains here for all to enjoy.

Here’s what the media say…

“The old-school Rail is great if you just want to grab a beer in a trad-pub setting, but what really makes it special is its enduring commitment to the indie music scene. Its little stage has seen dozens of rising stars kick-start their careers and it’s still the best place in town to catch passionate, consistently high-quality acts, ranging from folk to metal to bluegrass to polka.”
Lonely Planet

“Best Good Old Bar…What other bar could you show off to your parents at lunchtime, then return after dark with your latest punk rock, alt-coutnry, or other indie-music-fan squeeze to see live music? Nowhere else, that’s where. Not anymore.”
Georgia Straight, Best of Vancouver Edition, 2005

Under the category of unexpected possibilities, the club is hosting Café Scientifique talks and there’s one coming up on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 that features Mark MacLachlan, a professor from the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Chemistry Department. I featured MacLachlan and his work on nanocrystalline cellulose in a Nov. 18, 2010 post. From the Café Scientifique notice for the March 29, 2011 event,

Our next café will happen on March 29th, 7:30pm @ Railway Club (579 Dunsmuir Street). The speaker for the evening will be Mark MacLachlan, an Associate Professor from the Chemistry Department at UBC. His talk that evening will be:

Biomimetic Materials … With a Twist!

Natural materials that have evolved in plants and animals often display spectacular mechanical and optical properties. For example, spider silk is as strong as steel and tougher than Kevlar, which is used in bullet-proof vests.  Inspired by nature, chemists are now synthesizing materials that mimic the structures and properties of shells, bones, muscle, leaves, feathers, and other natural materials. In this talk, I will discuss our recent discovery of a new type of coloured glass that is a mimic of beetle shells. [emphasis mine] These new materials have intriguing optical properties that arise from their twisted internal structure, and they may be useful for emerging applications.

This sounds closely related to the work publicized in November 2010 (from UBC’s public affairs page),

The UBC researchers [MacLachlan, Kevin Shopsowitz, and Hao Qi] mixed the cellulose from the wood pulp with a silica, or glass, precursor and then burned away the cellulose. The resulting glass films are composed of pores, or holes, arranged in a helical structure that resembles a spiral staircase. Each hole is less than 1/10,000th of the diameter of a human hair.

“When Kevin showed me the films and they were red, blue, yellow and green, I knew we’d been able to maintain the helical structure found in the cellulose.”

“The helical organization we produced synthetically mimics the structure of the exoskeletons of some iridescent beetles,” says Shopsowitz. [emphasis mine]

I look forward to the talk. For anyone who’s not in Vancouver, there are Café Scientifique events in other Canadian cities including Halifax, Ottawa, and Calgary. Go here for a complete listing of events.


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